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Branston Leas Nature Reserve is a beautiful haven for wildlife on the edge of Burton. Owned by St Modwen Homes and managed by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the site is a beautiful spot for birds. The River Trent flows north through the site on its way towards Burton and beyond.
Throughout 2023, we will be delivering some biodiversity enhancement works in Branston Leas Nature Reserve as part of a programme of river valley enhancements along the Burton Washlands
Our aim is to create a more natural river bank profile through lowering parts of the bank to make it less steep. When the banks are less steep, different plants will grow and new habitats will be created. In these new habitats animals will find it easier to make homes and forage for food. Fish will also be able to use the newly created shallows to lay eggs and spawn.
Reducing the gradient of the river bank is a technique used regularly in river restoration and it has proven successful further down the Trent Valley at the Burton Washlands. The outcome is that the edge of the bank will be further in land and closer to the current footpath.
The work is needed because in the past the river has been straightened and deepened, meaning it is constricted to a straighter, narrower channel. This is unnatural and does not allow many species of plants and animals to live in their natural habitat. By lowering the bank and creating a gradual slope with lots of variation, we can provide more habitat opportunities and create a more diverse nature reserve. It also creates variation in the flow of the river, which is great for fish and other aquatic animals.
The footpaths will be impacted to accommodate the works – as the river bank is moved back so we will move the path with it. Although the footpath along the river will be reduced in width when the works are complete the restored footpath will still be ample for visitors/dog walkers to enjoy this part of the site
The tree planting schemes will not be affected – we won’t damage any community planted trees, although some river bank habitat will be affected by the works.
Prior to the delivery of this program, we need to understand the geology of Branston Leas before we are able to confirm a final suite of biodiversity projects. One of the steps in this process is to dig a series of test pits. We will be digging approximately 16 test pits along the bank of the River Trent in January 2023 as part of our investigations.
The pits will be filled in after soil samples have been taken and will cause minimal disruption to the ground.
The map below shows the approximate location of the two areas of reprofiling to be carried out by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust in summer 2023. Click the image to preview.
Branston Leas reprofiling map - click to preview
Branston Leas in early evening
Photo by Brian Triptree
Ground investigation results
Ground investigations were conducted to find out whether re-profiling the bank would contaminate the river with any materials left over from the old landfill at Branston Leas. The main concern was the presence of Pulverised Fuel Ash (PFA), but testing was also done for metal contaminants.
The good news is that investigations found that PFA was not present within 50 metres of the river bank, meaning there is no risk of our works contaminating the watercourse with PFA. The laboratory soil analysis has also shown that the soil is non-hazardous meaning it can be moved around the site safely.
Works planned for the summer
The results of the ground investigations mean that the works planned for this summer are likely to go ahead. The works are likely to last around 2 months and will involve using a digger to remove material from the river bank to create a more natural profile. This profile will be more suitable for a wide variety of plants and animals, and will make Branston Leas nature reserve a more biodiverse.
We are undertaking some ground investigations this month with contractors RSK. They will be digging up to 16 hand dug trial pits. The purpose of this exercise is to establish the location and limit of PFA (Pulverised Fuel Ash). This is a toxic waste product of coal burning and was created when the Drakelow Power Station was in operation. The waste was buried in Branston Leas and the maps of where this took place are only indicative and so we need to ensure that our proposed bank reprofiling is not going to uncover or erode into the buried PFA layer. The trial pits will be refilled within 48 hours of being dug and soil samples will be sent off for analysis. We do not believe we will uncover any PFA, but if we find evidence of it will be adjust our plans accordingly.
We have been working with specialist consultants JBA, and the Environment Agency, to develop designs for reprofiling the banks of the River Trent. Plans have been produced for two sections of the river bank to be reprofiled. We are also working in partnership with St Modwen Homes who have plans to reprofile a section of the river bank as part of their planning obligation for the adjacent housing development. The plan is for the three sections of reprofiling to be carried out as a single project in summer 2023.
What does river re-profiling mean?
River re-profiling involves the reshaping of a river’s banks. Due to the channelisation of the majority of our rivers, banks are often very steep. This makes it hard for plants to establish, and leaves few refuge spots for fish and invertebrates. Re-profiling creates areas of slower flowing water which are used as resting and nursery habitat for fish and invertebrates, and increases vegetation cover for mammals such as otter and water vole.
Why is the river no longer dredged?
Dredging has long been used as a form of flood management and involves the removal of sediment from the bottom and sides of river channels. It can also include the straightening and deepening of channels. Increased awareness of the impacts of dredging has revealed that as a form of flood management, it is not as effective as was originally thought. Although water levels in rivers have been seen to decrease where dredging has taken place, this is dependent on local conditions and doesn’t necessarily lead to reductions in flood risk.
Areas downstream from where dredging has taken place often experience exacerbated flooding due to the increase in discharge channelled downstream. Dredging also damages river ecosystems by directly affecting its physical habitat, disrupting riverine processes and reducing connectivity with the floodplain. Direct removal of sediment can impact specialised species such as invertebrates whilst making the channel more vulnerable to invasive non-native species such as signal crayfish and Himalayan balsam.
We have now entered a period where we are aiming to restore our rivers to a more natural profile and use more sustainable, holistic and natural management methods. These are better for us, our communities and our wildlife. Natural flood management techniques include the restoration, enhancement and alteration of natural features and characteristics but exclude traditional hard engineering flood defences that work against or disrupt natural processes.
Where will the reprofiling take place?
We are proposing to reprofile two areas of the river bank at Branston Leas. One section is south of the Peace Wood and the second is opposite the Drakelow Power Station outflow building.
How much river bank will be enhanced by this work?
We will reprofile approximately 1km of river bank.
Can I still visit Branston Leas when the works are taking place?
Yes, although some access may be restricted due to heavy machinery working in specific areas. This is for the safety of the public and the contractors. There will still be footpath access via the eastern railway side footpath.
When will the river restoration work start and how long will it take to complete?
The works will take place in summer 2023 and will take approximately 3 months. The work is dependent on the weather and will be impacted by high rainfall. Will will post further details when we have more information.
Will this still be a safe place to walk my dog?
During the works – there will be fencing put up to restrict access to the works area. We ask dog owners to be responsible, assess the situation, and respond accordingly.
After the works – the nature reserve will operate as normal.
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